The practice of collecting bail has existed in what we know as the United States before the nation was officially founded, and was initially based on English law. Bail has now morphed into a practice where rich and poor receive unequal justice, and because of a framework of unequal systems in our society, Black and Brown Americans are affected by debilitating consequences of pretrial detention.
Illinois is set to be the first state to abolish the cash bail system on January 1, 2023. The measure that will eliminate bail was introduced in 2021, giving Illinois' justice system two years to plan for this major overhaul of the pretrial detention system. Among other things, this bill is set to move Illinois from a system of pretrial detention that prioritizes wealth, to one that prioritizes public safety. As is to be expected, this act has been met with misinformation campaigns, even calling it a "Purge Law." This article from Injustice Watch tackles some of the myths circulating about the Safe-T Act.
There is a lot to consider when challenging entrenched systems in America: Are these systems still serving a purpose in our era? Were they designed fairly? Do they impact different groups in different ways (eg. do they have a debilitating affect on a certain racial group or class)? When considering whether to support an initiative to eliminate cash bail, reflect on the following:
- Consider if you believe in the concept of “innocent until proven guilty.” More than 400,000 people in the US are currently detained pretrial (prisonpolicy.org).
- Consider if you believe people should have to stay in jail simply because they cannot afford bail. On the flip side, consider if you believe people should be able to buy themselves out of jail for similar crimes as others who have to stay detained.
- Consider the language used when reading about the Safe-T Act. Do you believe in the humanity of so-called “criminals?” Do you notice when language is used to divide? If not, start this practice when reading about political decisions (or anything, really).
To learn more about the history of bail, check out Punishing Poverty: How Bail and Pretrial Detention Fuel Inequalities in the Criminal Justice System by Christine S. Scott-Hayward and Henry F. Fradella.